Toronto Maple Leafs look to the next 100 years

A new campaign from Sid Lee embraces the team's ups and downs as it prepares for the future.

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In 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs will mark their 100th year. And while many fans might be losing patience, a campaign to start the historic season is trying to get them to embrace the path the team is on for the future by celebrating its past.

In a new spot created by Sid Lee, an old man remembers visiting a diner in his younger days to watch the Leafs play, all while a voiceover recites a poem about young people telling a wise man of their jealousy for the things he’s been able to see in his life. That’s when the video shifts, and images from the team’s last Stanley Cup wins in the 1960s give way to shots of disappointed fans, leaves withering in the cold and televisions being tossed out of windows in frustration.

But as the man returns to the same diner in the present day, the images turn to players skating down a Toronto street, hitting someone in what looks a lot like a Canadiens jersey and the leaves emerging from the ice. The voiceover explains that it’s the wise man who should be jealous, as the young people will be the ones to “stand witness” to what the future holds.

The spot was released this week for the start of the NHL season, and more creative in the “Stand Witness” platform will be released as the season goes on.

Tom Koukodimos and Jeffrey Da Silva, ECDs at Sid Lee Toronto, say what really drove the idea behind the spot was meeting with Shannon Hosford, MLSE’s SVP of marketing and fan experience, and Brendan Shanahan, the team’s president. While the spot acknowledges the low moments in the Leafs’ history, the main message is that fans, who have increasingly expressed their frustrations with the team’s performance, have reasons to be optimistic.

“Those meetings were when we started letting go of the traditional story of frustrated Leafs fans and started understanding that there is real change happening,” Koukodimos says. “There’s a lot of things happening so we wanted to motivate the spirits of the fans and remind them there are real changes happening here. If you’re a Leaf fan, you’ve grown up looking at a lot of black and white photos of all these great moments, and we needed to respect and celebrate those to draw up the emotional values that are at the core of the team. But I hope anyone that watches this spot, it’s not only the history you end up focusing on.”

As it is an anniversary campaign, history is an important part of the creative, but it’s being used to set up the team’s story before it starts its next chapter.

“When people talk about the history of the Leafs, everyone feels like the best days are behind us,” Da Silva says. “We wanted fans to feel like they could be a part of the next best days. It’s less about being nostalgic about the past, and more about using the past to remind people of what that felt like to get them excited about what’s next.”

Another goal of the spot is to ditch the cliches in a lot of sports teams’ opening campaigns, which tend to focus on driving excitement for the upcoming season. But, as the Maple Leafs are a team on a long-term path to rebuilding, that kind of message would have felt contrived.

“If we came out with a spot that was trying to get fans to believe that this was their year, every one of them would have said ‘screw you,’” Koukodimos says. “A lot of teams are celebrating a season, and you can see where that creative would go. There’s a formulaic rallying cry and you create an energy and show intense athleticism and passionate fans.”

A promise would have been the wrong approach right now, Da Silva adds. “It’s not about this season, it’s about the dream for the future and getting fans excited about that so they stick with us to be a part of it.”